Fostering and Communicating Sustainable Lifestyles: Principles and Emerging Practices

This 2016 UN Environment report sets out a four-step strategy roadmap for fostering and communicating sustainable lifestyles, illustrated by 16 initiatives and campaigns from around the world. The report details eight operating principles and tips on how to apply them. The ultimate goal is to create tangible changes in the way people live their daily lives. This is the full report which includes concluding reflections; details on the principles; a workshop summary; and suggested additional resources. Cases explore how sustainable lifestyle campaigns intersect with key aspects of meeting core domain needs around food, shelter, mobility, leisure time, and human connections.

Sustainable Production and Consumption Framing Research Summary 

This research project from Social Capital Strategies and One Earth focuses on gaining a better understanding of how Canadians and Americans view sustainable consumption and production, particularly city sustainability directors.  We look at the challenges and opportunities that exist for developing new cultural narratives that effectively engage stakeholders. This report attempts to summarize the state of Canadian and U.S. public opinion around sustainable production and consumption issues, as well as the opportunities and barriers for engagement on this issue. 

Communicating Sustainability: How to produce effective public campaigns

This UN Environment guide shows how the power of communication can be harnessed for achieving the goal of promoting more sustainable lifestyles. It is designed to be read by local and national government authorities, and everyone else who wants to develop and implement public awareness campaigns on these issues.

Key highlights from the text: Myths and facts: what works and what does not in sustainable development communications; How to develop a communications plan; Key obstacles to government communications; Recommendations for seeking expert guidance; Sixteen case studies from around the world: Resources: publications and organizations for further help.

Also explore The Creative Gallery on Sustainability Communications - the campaigns highlighted in this Gallery address sustainability issues through various themes, tones, types of media and strategies.

Futerra's Ideas Page

Futerra, a leading sustainability communications consultancy, shares success stories and ideas for future projects on this website. Projects cover a wide scope from food to transportation to climate communications and a variety of clients from the public and private sectors.

The Story of Stuff Project

In December 2007, Annie Leonard and her friends at Free Range Studios put a 20-minute movie about the way we make, use, and throw away Stuff on the internet, unleashing a torrent of pent-up demand for honest conversation about the impacts of our consumer-crazed culture on people and the planet. In the six years since The Story of Stuff was released, Annie’s ‘cartoon about trash’ has been viewed more than 40 million times worldwide. Annie responded to viewers’ thirst for more information and ways to get involved by founding The Story of Stuff Project in 2008. - Recommended videos:

Select Videos related to Sustainable Consumption:

  • Living outside the Box: Sustainable Lifestyles - Does GDP really correspond to happiness? is our happiness tied up with ''stuff''? here are some ideas about sustainable living -- how many planets do we need to sustain our lifestyle? (Video - 4:10)
  • Terry Moore (Vice-President of ECONorthwest), explaining what sustainable consumption means to him as a citizen and as a professional. (Video - 4:53)
  • How to communicate sustainable lifestyles? This video was created for the MORE SL and TRANSFORM workshop in Vienna on November 20th 2015 in the context of UNEP's 10YFP Program "Sustainable Lifestyles and Education" (SLE) (Video: 2:57)

SCORAI Colloquium on Consumption and Social Change

The SCORAI Colloquium on Consumption and Social Change was a regular gathering of academics and policy professionals concerned with social change. Through sustained and free-flowing interaction, it aimed to build a knowledge base for greater understanding of how a transition beyond our contemporary consumerism-based culture and economy might take place. The Colloquium examined and synthesized theories and empirical experiences of social change from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives. It started in Spring 2014 and ended with a workshop in Autumn 2015.

SCORAI Colloquium Presentation from September 2014 (John Sterman)

In his presentation ‘Cultural Change to Sustainable Consumption: A dynamic systems perspective’, John Sterman, the Jay Forrester Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, spoke about the cultural shift toward sustainable consumption form the perspective of dynamic systems. Professor Sterman uses dynamic models to better understand our unsustainable economic system, to help reflect on the leverage points to foster the social and cultural changes needed to address overconsumption and build a more sustainable world, and to show how to create a more sustainable world, recognizing that, while technological innovation is necessary, there is no technical solution to the problem of unsustainability.

SCORAI Colloquium Presentation from November 2014 (Douglas Holt)

Douglas Holt, Founder and President of the Cultural Strategy Group (Boulder, CO), Professor of Marketing at Southern Denmark University, and Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University, critiques conventional strategies toward sustainable consumption and sustainable economy. These strategies have not been successful in 25 years despite increased public awareness and millions of dollars spent on campaigns. Holt argues that we need to approach strategy very differently and get organizations and resources behind these new strategic directions.

Other related Douglas Holt writing:

  • Holt, Douglas. "Constructing Sustainable Consumption From Ethical Values to the Cultural Transformation of Unsustainable Markets." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 644.1 (2012): 236-255. Web. - This paper explains why activist interventions have not worked and points the way toward more effective strategies. Holt argues that we should reallocate the vast government, NGO, and foundation sustainability investments from promoting consumer value transformations toward a federation of market-focused social movements.
  • Holt, Douglas. "Why the Sustainable Economy Movement Hasn’t Scaled: Toward a Strategy That Empowers Main Street." in Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. In this chapter from Juliet Schor’s Plentitude in Practice, Holt makes the argument that the environmental movement’s main failing has been choosing the wrong target audience. Engaging Main Streeters will require campaign strategies that resonate with and are responsive to the everyday understandings, concerns and aspirations of Main Street.

SCORAI Colloquium Presentation from January 2015 (Eric Olin Wright)

Erik Olin Wright, Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, talks about proposals and models of radical social change, drawing on his Real Utopias Project. The expansion of markets and pressures for endless growth in material consumption are not contingent features of a dynamic capitalist economy; they are intrinsic to an economy rooted in the competitive drive for profits and capital accumulation. Any serious effort to counteract systemic consumerism, therefore, must also attempt to transcend capitalism. But how is this possible? While capitalism has become more destructive both to the lives of people and the health of the environment, it seems to most people either to be an unalterable force of nature or to be backed by unassailably powerful social forces. Professor Wright explores four different routes to move beyond capitalism: smashing capitalism, taming capitalism, escaping capitalism, and eroding capitalism.